Grinnell to Get Extra Services, Current School Choice Continues

The Derry School Board has received guidance on how the state’s waiver of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements will affect the district, though Superintendent Laura Nelson warned that all the information is not yet in.

Nelson gave an update on the waiver, which releases Derry from many of the stringent NCLB requirements, at the July 16 School Board meeting. Nelson referenced two letters, one from the Department of Education to Virginia Barry, New Hampshire Commissioner of Education, on the waiver and one from Barry to Nelson discussing the new parameters, in particular how they apply to Grinnell Elementary School.

Under the waiver, Nelson explained, schools are no longer designated AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) or non-AYP. There will be no District In Need of Improvement (DINI) or School In Need of Improvement (SINI) designations.

Instead, efforts will be focused on two designations of schools. First, School Improvement Grants will be sent to the 5 percent of the state’s schools that are the lowest-performing, based on a three-year index. “These will move forward as priority schools, and continue to work on goals,” Nelson said.

The second category directs money and effort toward two classifications of Title I schools, Priority Title I and Focus Title I. The most struggling Title I schools will be labeled “Priority,” Barry wrote in a memo.

Derry’s Grinnell School will be in the second category, Focus Title I schools. The ranking is based on a three-year average of standardized test “subgroup” scores, Nelson said.
“Focus schools” receive services for the entire school and not just a targeted group, Nelson said, which is good news for Grinnell.

School Choice
The School Choice program, in which parents of children in an underperforming school can choose to send their children to another, will not be an option under the waiver, Nelson said. But the Derry district will honor its commitment to the students already in the program.

“Moving forward, students not attending their neighborhood school will be allowed to stay in their school of choice through fifth grade,” she said. After fifth grade, students go to one of the district’s two middle schools, which are not under the “choice” program.

Based on the late receipt of the information, Nelson recommended that the district continue its shuttle service for 2013-14. “Then we can make a determination,” she said. The students attending the “choice” schools will drop off as each group reaches fifth grade, and the board can assess who’s using the buses.
“It will be a hardship on parents not to provide them this year,” Nelson said.

Gathering data on who uses them will also help when Business Administrator Jane Simard negotiates a new transportation contract, Nelson said. Nelson said under the waiver, New Hampshire and Derry would be granted additional federal funding, “and I believe it’s a substantial amount,” she said. She said the money could be used to expand programs, such as an after-school “math camp” or reading group, to help challenged students.

Many staff members will receive orientation on the waiver this summer, Nelson said. She and Grinnell Principal Mary Hill were scheduled to attend an information session in Concord on July 17. From July 23 to 25 a training session on technology and data was scheduled at Ernest P. Barka Elementary School, and a delegation from Derry was going to Keene on the 24th and 25th for a School Improvement conference.
Nelson promised to have more answers by the Aug. 3 board meeting.